Who is undermining plans to make London's streets safe for cycling, and why? Find out how to get involved...

London's Mayor Boris Johnson recently unveiled his proposals for two new Cycle Superhighways in London; a north / south route via Blackfriars Bridge, and an east / west 'Crossrail for Bikes' along the river Thames via the Embankment.

Plans for the east / west cycle superhighway along the Thames, on Victoria Embankment.

The proposals - though not perfect - are the boldest plans for cycling ever tabled by the Mayor and Transport for London, and will certainly lead to a large increase in the volume of cyclists along these routes, riding in a safe and inviting environment suitable for a wider range of ages and abilities.  Credit where credit is due: Johnson has not always endeared himself with the cycling community, but his plans - delivered by his cycling commissioner Andrew Gilligan - are outstanding.

These incredible new bike tracks, substantially segregated from traffic, are the end result of a long and sustained campaign by the cycling community.  In 2012, grass roots protests on Blackfriars Bridge about plans to tear out cycle lanes and increase traffic speeds helped to bolster the ambition and strengthen the voice of the London Cycling Campaign.  Their 2012 Mayoral campaign, "Love London, Go Dutch" saw 40,000 Londoners sign up and over 10,000 cyclists take to the streets urging all the Mayoral candidate to create safe space for cycling on London's busiest roads.  In a huge campaign success, all of the Mayoral candidates signed up, with Boris Johnson represented at the Go Dutch Big Ride by Daniel Moylan - then Deputy Chairman of Transport for London, and still a serving member of the Board.  The proposed new superhighways is that rarest of things; a politician coming right on their election promises.

Conservative politician and TfL board member Dan Moylan pledging to "Go Dutch" on behalf of the Mayor alongside other politicians and young cyclists at the LCC's 2012 Big Ride.

The consultation on the new routes is already open, and as you can imagine they are attracting considerable attention.  With such radical plans for central London, you'd expect some concern from other road users, especially taxi drivers, as par for the course.  But there's something stranger going on here...

The Evening Standard's transport correspondent, Matthew Beard, reported that "business leaders are in revolt" over plans, but failed to name who those business leaders are.  The Standard also spun a line that the new highways would delay car journeys by 16 minutes, despite Tfl's modelling showing this is the worst case scenario for just one type of journey - from Limehouse to Hyde Park - and totally ignored other journeys which would actually be quicker under the proposals.  They also failed to mention the thousands of square metres of new public space the new highway would capture for pedestrians.  As Easy as Riding a Bike blog does a good job of demolishing some of the more outlandish claims made against the proposals.  A bizarre and hole-filled statement claiming the superhighways would damage their business appeared to come from the Canary Wharf Group, whilst another press briefing revealed by Cyclists In The City purposefully distorts the facts to try and discredit the superhighway plans.

Plans to make Parliament Square - what should be the heart of London - accessible to pedestrians for the first time, under cycling plans.

There's something fishy going on here.  This is more than just the mutterings of a few taxi drivers and white van men.  Indeed, journalist Adam Bienkov revealed on Politics.co.uk that those who are briefing against Boris Johnson's cycle superhighways are actually from inside Transport for London itself.  He writes: "Senior figures at Transport for London (TfL) believe Boris Johnson is trying to rush through his plans for segregated cycle lanes in London too quickly, Politics.co.uk can reveal."  That is to say, employees of London's transport body, whose job it is to enact Mayoral transport policy, policy which is enabled by the democratic process of Londoners electing their own Mayor, are directly working against his wishes, and by default the wishes of Londoners.  How's that for democracy in action?  

If we needed any re-assurance that this dissent is coming directly from within Transport for London itself, TfL board member Michael Liebreich tellingly tweeted on September 26th "Make sure the voice of non-limo-driving Londoners is heard on cycle super-highways!"  Clearly, not everyone on Boris' board agree with Boris himself, and are out to undermine our Mayor and his cycling vision

In PR they say a good story will walk around the world before the truth has had a chance to get its shoes on, and those who are briefing against the superhighways are hoping hand-picking figures and using scare tactics will have the proposals thrown out, the Mayor's cycling commissioner discredited and the kaibosh put on future cycling plans.  In other words, your help is needed now more than ever.
One day soon, with your help, children will be able to ride through central London more than just once a year on a SkyRide...

The London cycling community has been incredible in their vociferous dedication to calling for better cycling facilities in the past.  You've signed petitions, attended protest rides, badgered newspapers and pestered politicians.  And you are winning, as these latest plans attest.  But we need your help again.  It is time, once again, to get involved to help create the city you'd like to ride in in the future and to drown out the spinning voices of dissent who don't want to see safe space for cycling on our roads:
  • Sign the London Cycling Campaign petition saying you back the superhighway proposals.
  • Respond directly to the consultations positively - it only take 2 minutes of your time - to drown out those who respond negatively.  Here for the north / south route and here for the east / west route.
  • Business voices count in London. Do you run a company, or work for one?  Make sure they pledge their support with Cycling Works London and join firms like The Crown Estate, Barts NHS Trust and Knight Frank in showing their support. Follow @CyclingWorksLDN on Twitter and add to their voice.
  • Stay tuned!  The consultation period has already been extended due to negative responses, so there will be lots more action to come.  Keep up to date and make sure you're involved!

PS. Sorry for the long delay since my last post.  I go on holiday for a few weeks and come back and all of London is up in arms about cycling. Honestly, I can't turn my back on you lot for more than a minute!


bikemapper said...

Mark, you write that the proposals "will certainly lead to a large increase in the volume of cyclists along these routes".

Evidence from the States indicates things are not nearly as black-and-white as you suggest. The likelihood is that there would indeed be more cycling along the new routes, but that about three-quarters of the "new" users would already have been using their bikes for that trip.

"We're seeing people who already bike shifting the routes they're taking," study co-author Jennifer Dill said in an interview. "We're seeing a small amount of new cycling."

According to an LCC report: "Isolated cycle paths are almost useless if they’re not connected, making a network from the beginning."

The bottom line is that protected cycle lanes can't rapidly boost bike ridership without a network. David Hembrow said as much in his interview with Jack Thurston:

"Another problem with what's happened with the Go Dutch campaigning has been people celebrating [...] the idea of having a single high-quality route. This is something which the Dutch found in the 1970s had almost no influence at all on people's cycling patterns. You actually need a dense grid of high quality routes so that people can make their journeys from A to B without any problems along the way. If you have a single route, it works only if A and B are on that route. Otherwise the majority of people in the city where the new route is are completely unaffected by it."

This brings me on to another point, as expressed recently by lludovic on the LCC website:

"Who wants to go to Acton? Not me, certainly. Has any traffic survey been undertaken? What about Hyde Park to Hammersmith and then onwards to Putney and Richmond? Those borough have the highest proportions of cycle ownership..."

The case is, these routes are going, not where they are most needed, but where they can be installed without causing too much inconvenience. The Mayor’s press release says as much:

“The routes have fewer of the usual features which can make installing segregated cycle lanes difficult. They have also seen a reduction of around a quarter in motor traffic in the last ten years. Only a small fraction of the east-west route is on roads served by TfL daytime buses, for instance, and there is little residential parking along most of the routes.”

Lynn Sloman said in her book, Car Sick: Solutions for our car-addicted culture, "The focus of our attention should switch from a few grandiose schemes to thousands of small initiatives." We don't actually need a few grandiose schemes at this stage; we need density and connectivity. As Chris Boardman says: "The key is local governments having a clear and detailed holistic view of what they want their cities to look like in 10 years."

ibikelondon said...

Thanks for taking the time to write Bikemapper. I think we will have to agree to disagree on this one!

I fundamentally disagree that these routes are not going where they can be useful - they will speed people from the terrifying roads of the outer boroughs in to the relatively safe and slow minor roads of central London, acting as a safe conveyor accessing a network of much more cycleable routes without having to punch through the donut of outer London's much more heavily trafficked and faster roads. The network you refer to already exists, we just need to be able to get cyclists in to London to access it.

I don't know who Lludovic on the LCC website is, but it does not seem sensible to base your position on the comment of just one person. Thousands have already signed to support the cycle highways, and businesses representing thousands of employees are signing up their support in droves.

Existing cycle highways have seen increases in ridership of 30 to 40% and that is just with blue paint - the new routes will be significantly segregated from traffic and will appeal to a much wider spectrum of riders. Similar routes in Seville lead to an explosion in cycling numbers.

Whilst I agree with you (and we have discussed previously) that hundreds of smaller interventions are needed and useful, it is not an "and / or" situation. As you well know we need both, however one - with a political mandate from the Mayor, thousands of campaigners in support and the budget to match - is more likely to happen than others.

I love to dream about all of the things I would like to see happen in London, but not at the expense of fighting for things which are likely to happen. Disregarding these routes to hang on for a pipe dream which is not even on the table would be like cutting off one's nose to spite one's face.

the leisurist said...

What a strange comment from Bikemapper.

Cycle routes are need EVERYWHRE. Why be opposed to improvements because it doesn't go exactly where you want it to?

As someone who lives in Richmond and cycles into central london to Camden everyday, I will most likely not be using any of these routes. Yet I see them as having value. Immense value in small steps towards making London a cycle friendly city.

Such negativity the prevents people from any action at all is what has held up improvements to begin with.

Tim said...

Regarding Bikemapper's comment. of course it's right to say we need a network. We should heed Penalosa when he compares half measures to a building a part of a soccer field one year, a little bit more the next, then cancelling the project in the third year because nobody is using it. Expectation management is useful.

But right now, a complete finished network popping up overnight isn't on the table. These major routes *are* on the table and every network has to start somewhere. At this point the priority is to be positive and to try and ensure these high-quality facilities get built. I think, even on their own, they will be really useful, and it's a great starting point for future expansion.

ibikelondon said...

Thanks for your comment @theleisurist it reminded me of a further point I wanted to make which is that these routes are useful for all cycling projects (and future routes) as they have that "if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere" factor. Getting these built successfully will be the gateway to getting a lot more done!

a f h said...

bikemapper, while you may be partly right during peak hours - the roads you have to ride to reach the new stuff are going to be as demanding as ever, at least in the first years - I think there are two aspects you've not accounted for.

The first is the Cycle Hire Scheme. The Embankment / Thames Street route enables a whole lot of last-mile, or last-three-miles cycle trips for people arriving at the big stations nearby. You'll also see more longer-distance rail commuters keeping a cheap bike locked at the station, or bringing a Brompton, instead of taking the bus or the tube. I'd imagine this will see more growth than people cycling from, say, Acton to Blackfriars. (Indeed, if you look at mode share vs distance for London and the Netherlands, it's the mass of short-ish cycle trips that we're particularly missing -- for 10-mile cycle journeys, the difference in the numbers is much less pronounced than for 2-3 mile trips).

The second is leisure use off-peak. This is a really big deal. You can't see the sights by bike if merely staying alive requires 100% concentration (something the West End Project's designers have totally failed to take in to account). The section from the Tower to Hyde Park is going to be hugely popular as a tourist attraction and as a leisure ride for ordinary Londoners on the weekend - the kind of people who wouldn't dream of joining the commuter peloton, but will happily pedal in from Tower Hamlets or Deptford for a couple of hours enjoying the sights of the city at their own pace.

Where this is especially significant from a cycle campaigning point of view is that these routes will create demand amongst people who haven't historically been cycle campaigners for a safe network radiating out through the suburbs, at least for the sort of distances people are prepared to ride to get there. The route becomes a destination in itself, and that creates political pressure for major network upgrades in the rest of inner London.

Paul M said...

Working at a firm whose offices are a stone's throw from not one but both routes, in Blackfriars, I suppose I am biased - the proposals would permit colleagues to cycle to work from four points of the compass and while I dare say that there is more transference of existing cyclists than commencement of new ones in these schemes, I really don't think that a one third increase is such a bad outcome.

I also don't hold with bikemapper's argument - of course a complete network isn't going to appear overnight but we have to start somewhere, and the superhighways proposals are vital for two reasons: firstly, I am confident that they will prove that taking a small amount of road space from motor traffic dos not mean world's end and in no time at all the result will actually be an improvement on what went before, for motorists too. Secondly, I see this proposal as the canary of cycle infrastructure planning in this country. If it dies, it is telling us that the atmosphere for cycling in the UK is irretrievably toxic.

Finally, I'm not sure what you are implying about Liebrecht's tweet - I took it to be supportive, am I wrong?

Michael Robinson said...

I'd agree with bike mapper that it looks like the EW route has been extended out to Acton as this is an easier sell, politically.

RB Kensington and Chelsea has basically blocked a cycle superhighway on routes like High St Kensington so it wouldn't surprise me that TfL thought they have more than enough battles to fight already so aren't having another fight with the westward route.

ibikelondon said...

Hi @Paul_M re Liebrecht's tweet, yes, I too see this as positive (indeed very positive!) and that it was a clear reaction to internal briefing at TfL by others against their own plans.

The many headed Hydra that is TfL clearly on display once again!

ibikelondon said...

@Michael Robinson Is that such a bad thing? As @Paul_M says above, if these plans die it shows the atmosphere for ever building cohesive infrastructure in the UK is impossible. If it is a difference between getting it built out to Acton and not getting it built at all, I know which I would choose.

Michael Robinson said...

@ibikelondon Well as someone who lives very near the (doomed?) CS9 route, it is obviously personally disappointing this looks to have been filed under "too difficult". From a bigger picture perspective however, the key thing is the proposed routes to go ahead show dinosaurs like RBK&C they are actually losing out by resisting safe routes.

Anonymous said...

lludovic seems to want it to go through wealthy neighbourhoods and I'm sure there are people all over London who would like it to go through their neighbourhood. He might not want to go to Acton, but there are plenty of people in Acton wanting to go to central London. Acton is a very populous area, with no good cycling routes to central London: there's the Uxbridge Road, which is mostly a bus lane, and the A40, which is mostly full of speeding drivers talking on mobile phones, coaches and HGVs. The Westway to Acton branch (which is already delayed, apparently) will have a big catchment area, with Quietways linking it to other neighbourhoods, like Shepherd's Bush and Paddington (so I was told at one of the consultation exhibitions).

bikemapper said...

@Tim For the record, a complete [functioning] network popping up overnight was on the table about eight years ago, but was rejected by TfL "in light of the views expressed by the London Cycling Campaign".

@Mark "A pipe dream which is not even on the table ... If it is a difference between getting it built [...] and not getting it built at all, I know which I would choose."

bikemapper said...

The was a BBC radio documentary at the start of this year entitled Cycling and the City. The show's presenter, Kevin Fong, concluded the programme thus:

"There is without doubt more to gain than there is to be lost in encouraging people to cycle. And Andrew Gilligan's right about perception. But this all boils down to quality: the quality of the debate, the quality of the data, the quality of our interventions and our ability to know that they are working."

It is in this spirit - and not to be negative, as the leisurist suggests - that I have written a blog about the Westway route (here). I am most interested in your thoughts and those of your readers.

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